Friday, September 25, 2009

Charlotte's Web Review

If you have kids, you need to go to UVU’s Noorda Theater and see Charlotte’s Web (it runs through Oct 3, 2009.) Heck, if you don’t have kids, you need to go see Charlotte’s Web. It is a delightful production. I’ve seen it twice and would happily see it again. The adaptation is by Joseph Robinette and is considered one of the finest children’s adaptations ever written – and it is. It follows the story faithfully, while giving some surprises and new insights, especially into the character of Charlotte. Add this to a whole passel of excellent character performances, full size animal puppets and spectacular sets – what could be more fun!

The adaptation does two things that I really like: It helpes me get to know Charlotte better and gives Wilbur a stronger character arc. The changes aren’t big, just subtle, but this is a subtle story to begin with and anything more would not be in sync with the tone of the book.

I don’t think anywhere in the book we hear Charlotte’s thoughts, but here and there throughout the play, we hear Charlotte talking to herself; we get into her head. This makes the story stronger. It is Charlotte’s story after all, but because we see it through Fern’s and Wilbur’s eyes, we don’t often don’t feel that. Charlotte seems more like a real entity and a caring friend. We see more of her internal struggle over going to the fair. To her it is choosing between helping save a friend’s life and procuring a future life for her babies. The dilemma is definitely stronger in the play. Her death is more tender as well. The play makes it feel more like Charlotte’s story.

I often hear people complain about the character of Wilbur. They say he is weak and whiney and that he only thinks of himself. He is a character with a very weak power dynamic, but that has never bothered me too much because he is functioning on the level of a small child. We don’t look at a 4 year old and say, “What a selfish person!” Wilbur is just that, a child. I admit that in the book he does not have a strong character arc. The strongest thing he does is order Templeton to get Charlotte’s egg sac so he can take it back to the farm, but when Spring comes and the spider babies are flying away, he seems as despondent and whiney as in the beginning. The play shows Wilbur growing in courage, love and maturity. He tells Templeton near the end that it doesn’t matter how long he lives, but how he lives and that he loved. It’s a simple line, but speaks volumes. When the babies are flying away, he is not happy, but seems to better understand the way of the world. He makes a stronger footprint for Charlotte in the play.

I must say that these subtle changes are greatly enhanced by the actors Jana Grass and Jacob Porter who gave genuine and tender performances.

The whole big wonderful play is amazing – so get out and see it!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It is Alive!

This week I experienced a miraculous thing… a birth – the birth of a play – my play. It is a curious thing to see the words that you labored and agonized over take on breath and flesh and become a living thing. And I really can’t call it “my” play, for by now my DNA has been mingled with that of the director and the actors to create a new amalgamation; perhaps more like the reanimation of Dr. Frankenstein’s creature than a new born baby, but either way, I happily declare, “It is alive!”

I should give the disclaimer that the play is an original adaptation of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, so the words are more Mark than me, but like the good Dr. Frankenstein I have cut and sewn and added in a few original parts and the results are much less frightening. You won’t run screaming from the theatre, I promise!

We have a great cast and it has been so fun to see them bring the material to life and to hear the audience respond, laugh or just watch with delighted faces. The show is traveling to schools throughout Utah, but you can still catch one of the remaining public performances. They are at the Orem Public Library: September 25, October 2,9 and 16; and at UVU’s Noorda Theatre Experimental Box: October 17.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Horizons

This is an auspicious week (not to mention, an incredibly busy one as well.) On Friday, Resonance Story Theatre’s Tom Sawyer opens. We were asked last spring to create a traveling production of Tom Sawyer to coincide with the Orem Public Library’s Big Read. The Big Read Kicks off on Monday, September 14th and you can read more details about the whole thing at: Resonance Story Theatre partnered with the new Noorda Theatre at Utah Valley University ( and Tom Sawyer has become the Noorda’s first touring show. I wrote an original adaptation to accommodate a small cast. There are five actors who play multiple roles. This has been a wonderful project and we have a great cast. Besides performing at the Orem Library and the Noorda Experimental Box, the show will travel to 18 schools throughout Utah and to the Egyptian Theatre in Park City. You can get all the details at:

This week has been full of firsts for me. I workshopped my very first scene of a new play I am writing in a class at school. I learned I have a lot to learn, but the process of getting feedback is invaluable and I am determined to seek it out no matter how uncomfortable. I’ve been helping out with the props and costumes for Tom Sawyer, so another first is I’ve been making things with power tools! I’ve built a prison window and worked on the picket fence. It’s been fun. Another great first is I was hired for my first freelance analysis job. A producer is paying me to look over a children’s theatre script and write up an analysis. Thank you Katie Farmer, my script and text analysis professor, whose incredible 30 years research on analysis has given me marketable skills. I really loved working on this project and ended up with a 7 page type written analysis, using Katie’s model and my own experience to give, what I think, is valuable and usable thoughts and ideas on how to strengthen the script. I would love to do more of this type of work.

I can’t tell you how much I love my life. It’s a little crazy right now with school and opening the show, but every week brings me new and varied experiences and I feel as if my head is just exploding with new thoughts and possibilities.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Waking Up

I just spent the weekend at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival for a marathon of stories and I couldn’t be more tired and content! I heard everything from personal stories, tall tales, Edgar Allen Poe, folktales, ballads, African-American poetry, folk music both old and new and on and on. I have laughed, I have cried… I have felt my heart and soul expand. One teller, Angela Lloyd, sang an old ballad about Sleeping Beauty while adding her own comments in between the verses. She talked about how dusty Sleeping Beauty was and how she had morning breath. It got me thinking… No one ever thinks about how hard it must have been to wake up after a hundred years. We just get the kiss and then move right to the “happily ever after.” Don’t you think her head would have been spinning from all the changes (not to mention marrying a complete stranger one hundred years her junior!) She might have been shocked at the new fashions that (gasp!) exposed the limbs, or her country might have been conquered by another and now everyone speaks a different language. Think of all the ways the world would have left her behind. It would definitely have been a fish-out-of-water experience.

This resonated with me because I feel as if I am in the process of waking up. For twenty-three years I have been a mother. I have been primarily involved in the development of others. I’m not complaining. It has been, and still is, my most incredible journey. It has made me who I am and has shaped my character. No matter what I accomplish in my life, it will never compare with the accomplishment of succeeding in and surviving motherhood.

But there are parts of me that have been asleep. Hopes and dreams… and whole sections of my brain! Going back to college in my forties is definitely a fish-out-of-water experience. I spend most of my days hanging around with people the age of my children – it makes for an interesting social landscape. I live in this surreal world where, because of my age, my professors treat me as if I have experience and knowledge and yet every day there are moments when I am learning huge new things that are just so basic – things a simple idiot could have figured out intuitively. I want to cry, “Wait, while I wipe the sleep from my eyes.”

The process of waking up is awkward and humbling, but it’s also exquisite. The act of peeling away my outer, crusty layers of old thoughts and immobility to expose the new, raw, pink me can be almost unbearably sweet and painful. It’s not just learning how to act or write a play, it’s expanding my mind to new thoughts; it’s opening my soul to new ways of looking at the world. It’s the process of becoming an artist - a skill that is not nurtured by my society.

So, world, please excuse me when I’m groggy. Please be tolerant of my bumbling attempts. I cannot turn back, for no matter how painfully awkward the way, I feel driven by the power of story… I feel driven by the promise of learning… I feel driven to wake up.